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Navigating Identities in Ecuador

Peace Corps’ ICDEIA approach seeks to reflect and support the diversity of the United States through its staff and Volunteers, who represent a broad collection of social identities, including race, ethnicity, color, national origin, disability, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, age, religion, marital status, and socioeconomic status, among others.

How might a Volunteer’s social identities impact their service?

The information below provides additional context about how different social identity groups may experience service and what types of ICDEIA-related support you can expect from the Peace Corps.

Accessibility and disability considerations

There is very little infrastructure, like ramps, railings, and elevators, needed to accommodate individuals with physical disabilities, compared to those in the United States.

As a Volunteer with disabilities in Ecuador, you may face a special set of challenges. While Ecuador has made efforts to increase accessible infrastructure, these improvements are not yet available nationwide and are still insufficient. As in other parts of the world, some people in Ecuador hold prejudicial attitudes about individuals with visible physical disabilities and may discriminate against them. However, many Ecuadorians are supportive.

Peace Corps Ecuador staff are committed to exploring creative and innovative ways to support reasonable accommodations for Volunteer success.

Gender role considerations

Gender roles in Ecuador are markedly different from those in the United States. Pre-service training will orient you to these norms and customs.

Volunteers may find conservative attitudes regarding gender equality. Many Ecuadorian women, especially those in rural areas, may maintain traditional roles; they run the household, prepare meals, clean, and care for their children and other family members. Some women also work in the fields, run small businesses, and care for farm animals.

The behavior of Volunteers that identify or present as women will more often be scrutinized or criticized by host communities than that of Volunteers that identify or present as men. While it may be challenging at times, Volunteers that identify or present as women can enjoy success by aligning themselves with women and working within the gender-defined system to influence change.

Volunteers identify or presenting as men may encounter harassment, though less frequently than Volunteers identifying or presenting as women.

LGBTQI+ considerations

The Peace Corps supports Volunteers and staff of all genders and sexual orientations and encourages Volunteers to serve as allies to their fellow Volunteers in all aspects. During training and throughout service, Trainees and Volunteers identifying as LGTBQI+ can also learn from staff and other Volunteers on how to effectively and appropriately navigate Ecuadorian culture.

There are no legal restrictions on same-sex sexual relations or the organization of LGBTQI+ events in Ecuador. However, people who identify as LGBTQI+ in some communities may face discrimination and bullying.

While some Ecuadorians are open about their sexual orientation and civil unions are legal for same-sex couples, Volunteers may need to be cautious with their Ecuadorian colleagues about being open about their sexual orientation.

The experience of each Volunteer will differ. Some LGBTQI+ Volunteers have chosen to come out to community members, and received positive and negative reactions, while some have come out only to select Peace Corps staff and Volunteers. Many have chosen to be discreet about their orientation and/or gender identity within their host community.

It is suggested that LGBTQI+ Volunteers explore the safety and integration implications (with the support of staff if needed) prior to sharing this part of their identity with community members.

Racial and ethnic diversity considerations

Because of limited exposure, some Ecuadorians will expect all U.S. citizens to be White and are unaware of diversity in the U.S. Comments, microaggressions, or jokes regarding race or ethnicity may arise from misinformation or unfamiliarity with other races and cultures.

All Volunteers should be mindful of the issues of race/ethnicity that are embedded in U.S. culture and within Ecuador and become an ally to fellow Volunteers.

Ecuadorians (particularly in rural areas) tend to think of all Americans as White. Volunteers of color may encounter verbal harassment on the street—especially when away from their communities and in larger towns or cities.

White Volunteers will likely experience privilege in many ways. Navigating this and being an ally to Volunteers and locals who may not have the same experience will be important as a Volunteer. One such privilege may be not having your U.S. citizenship questioned and automatically being assumed to be American, while many of your fellow Volunteers of color may experience the contrary. At the same time, White Volunteers may stand out more and receive different types of unwanted attention more often because of this aspect of their identity.

Ecuador has a diversity of ethnic groups, including Afro-Ecuadorian populations mainly concentrated in a couple of areas of the country. Black/African American Volunteers are likely to stand out more for their manner of dress and/or lifestyle than for their ethnic background, especially if they live in these particular areas. Afro-Ecuadorians are a visible minority subject to negative attitudes and discrimination, and Black/African American Volunteers may experience similar treatment.

It is common for all people of Asian descent to be referred to as “Chinese” and be called “China/Chino.” Volunteers of Asian descent may also experience microaggressions and may not be initially viewed as Americans.

Latinx/Hispanic Volunteers may not be believed to be American and Ecuadorians may focus on their Hispanic/Latinx identity. There also may be a greater expectation for Volunteers to speak fluent Spanish and understand complex cultural norms/activities/jokes, etc., that they would not expect of a non-Latinx Volunteer.

Age considerations

Older Volunteers may find their age to be an asset in-country and will often have access to individuals and insights that are not available to younger Volunteers. An older individual may be the only older person in a group of Volunteers and initially may not feel part of the group.

In general, older members of the community are well respected in Ecuador. Specific challenges for older Volunteers most often are related to adaptation to the basic living conditions of Ecuador.

Religious considerations

Roman Catholicism is the dominant religion in Ecuador. Other religious groups are increasingly visible, however, and religious tolerance is the norm. Volunteers should understand and respect the role of religion in the Ecuadorian community.

In some smaller communities, divisions exist across religious lines, and Volunteers should learn about these issues and be cautious about being perceived as aligned with one side or the other.

Some Ecuadorians feel it is their duty to “convert” you to their religion. Some Volunteers find this to be very frustrating and try to explain to Ecuadorians that they are not religious or practice another religion. Others find that attending religious observances, as a cultural behavior, can aid the integration process.

Considerations for Volunteer couples

Couples often face pressure from host country nationals to conform better with traditional relationship roles in-country. Host country nationals will often not understand American relationship dynamics and may be outwardly critical of relationships that do not adhere to traditional gender roles.

It is helpful to think about how pressures to conform to local culture can challenge men and women in very different ways. Considering how your partner is being affected and discussing what, if any, aspects of your relationship should be adjusted can help reduce stress for you both. For example, men in Ecuador are perceived as the dominant gender, and as such the man will usually be the person that all questions are directed towards. This can be trying on a heterosexual couple who may be used to being viewed as equals. Couples without children may be repeatedly questioned about why they do not have children, etc.

Peace Corps Ecuador has hosted same-sex couples. Staff will support same-sex couples in training, housing, job sites, or other areas to enable them to serve safely and effectively.

Types of ICDEIA support available in country

A staff-led ICDEIA Committee has worked with staff and Volunteers to intentionally foster a more inclusive and equitable organizational culture within the Peace Corps. As we strengthen the work of the committee, we will seek to collaborate with Volunteers on various ICDEIA efforts to make training and programming more effective and appropriate, and to strengthen inclusion and belonging for Volunteers, staff, and host country partners.

In the future, Peace Corps Ecuador hopes to form a Volunteer-led support group to provide a safe space for Volunteers and to contribute to a stronger culture of inclusion and belonging.

During pre-service training, Trainees will have the opportunity to participate in ICDEIA sessions. These sessions are designed to provide comprehensive training on fostering inclusion, embracing diversity, promoting equity, and developing intercultural competence. The program recognizes the importance of continuous learning and growth, and therefore, training on these essential topics will also be offered throughout your service.